The World Health Organization momentarily paused its discussion of the coronavirus pandemic to address the worldwide protests taking place against police violence and racial inequality.
The demonstrations have moved towards Europe and Africa and have continued in the U.S. following the death of George Floyd — after officer Derek Chauvin was seen kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes in Minneapolis on May 25.
“WHO fully supports equality and the global movement against racism. We reject discrimination of all kinds,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a media briefing on Monday.
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His comments come amid fears from health officials who believe the protests could spark a wider spread of the coronavirus — following months of stay-at-home orders to limit the virus’s spread. Thousands have packed the mass demonstrations that have seen many without masks, and some chanting, shouting, or singing.
Knowing whether further cases are created from the protests won’t likely be known for a couple of weeks due to the virus’s 2 to 14 day incubation period. It remains a delicate balance due to the importance of fighting against policy brutality while protecting the lives of people from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We encourage all those protesting around the world to do so safely,” Tedros added, “Clean your hands, cover your cough and wear a mask if you attend a protest.”
He advised people to maintain a safe distance from others and stay home sick, according to NPR.
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“The riskiest situation to be in is to be in close proximity to a case, particularly a symptomatic case, of COVID-19,” said Michael Ryan, director of WHO’s health emergencies program, according to the media organization.
Health officials in Kansas announced on Friday that a resident tested positive for the coronavirus after attending a recent protest without a mask on.
Officials with the Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health Department said the person attended a protest in downtown Lawrence on May 31. They advised anyone who attended the demonstration to self-isolate and monitor for symptoms.
“It is the perfect set-up for the spread of the virus in the sense of creating some blips which might turn into some surges,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of President Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force, told radio station WTOP-FM in Washington, D.C. last Friday.
The coronavirus is mainly thought to spread from person to person contact within close distances, the CDC added.
“As I sat in front of the TV and watched the screen go from Washington, D.C., to New York City, to Los Angeles, to Philadelphia, I got really concerned,” Fauci told the Sunday Times of London. “I was going, ‘Oh my goodness. I hope this doesn’t set us back a lot.’ [After] all of the work in trying to maintain the physical distance and doing all the things, I became very concerned that we might see a resurgence.”
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Protests across the world are expected to continue in the coming days, according to NPR, while Floyd’s burial service will take place on Tuesday in Houston.
Fox News’ Brie Stimson contributed to this report